By Kevin Pagenkop
Morale is often complained about in the same way a slow CAD application or a radio failure is viewed. They are required components of a communications center but the problems are usually forwarded to someone else for resolution. While it is common for employees to look to management to improve the morale of the center, it is just as common for management to look to their staff.
While not routinely a thought that is entertained, management personnel are also employees of the company or agency. There will always be a division between labor and management, us against them, but at the end of the day, everyone is stuck in a room full of CADs, tethered to a radio, breathing stale air, and trading the same colds and flus. Morale is universal and knows no boundaries between title and rank. There are certainly morale problems caused by poor management. Equally, there are morale problems caused by toxic personalities or cliques within the workforce. Improving morale takes everyone’s participation.
Morale drives behavior. This, in turn, affects the quality of work as well as self-satisfaction—which is a key component in the decision employees make to remain at a job. So it is dually beneficial to value morale as it improves quality as well as employee retention. A core responsibility of all personnel should be creating an atmosphere where everyone feels valued for their efforts, recognized for their accomplishments, and encouraged to continue applying their efforts to improve the overall performance of the center.
Management should solicit input and suggestions from their staff members. By actively engaging key personnel, and valuing their efforts, they will be encouraged to work toward improving the atmosphere of the center. Providing recognition rewards positive behaviors and is the first step in changing the culture of a workforce and creating an environment where personnel want to get involved.
Employees should take accountability for their own behaviors. Attitudes are contagious—both positive and negative. Listening to gossip or accepting hazing is just as damaging to morale as actively participating in these toxic behaviors. “Leadership” and “Management” are two different things. Anyone can lead by example and set the standard for an improved atmosphere and better morale.
Take accountability for your own morale. There is nothing wrong with voicing complaints or venting frustration but when it is without respite—hour after hour, shift after shift—it can affect everyone in the room. Don’t wait around for someone else to improve your morale.
Take advantage of solicitations and surveys by completing them. Provide honest feedback. Volunteer for, or create, morale committees or employee action programs. Implement your own recognition programs or participate when management provides recognition.
Recognition works both ways. Everyone likes praise—even management personnel. When efforts are recognized, positive behaviors are repeated. If management’s efforts to improve morale are recognized, even when they are small or infrequent, there is incentive for them to continue those efforts. This closes the circle between staff and management as both groups begin appreciating the efforts of one another.
Engage your staff and do so often. The focus should be on quality interaction, not quantity interaction. Survey employees, asking for their suggestions. Value both their participation as well as their input—even if you don’t agree with their opinions.
Be a good listener. When an employee is angry, don’t take it personally. Give that person a forum to vent. Better to blow off some steam behind closed doors than melt down in the middle of a call. Employees want to know that their needs and complaints are being heard.
Provide recognition. Good leaders set clear guidelines—on both performance and behaviors—for their employees. When these standards are met, employees should be recognized. Reinforcing positive behavior provides an incentive to repeat or continue that behavior, so provide praise and recognition often.
Everyone should be held to the same standards. That includes management personnel. Gather input and participation from the bottom up but lead from the top down.
Regardless of title or responsibility, take the initiative to improve the morale of your center with the hope that one by one others will follow, because ultimately, we’re all responsible for improving morale. Like everything else, this takes practice, but a small step in the right direction is better than no movement at all.